Just as in John Harbaugh's first season, the Ravens need a win in the regular-season finale to clinch a playoff berth.

But there is a difference - Harbaugh said Monday that he is "more excited" about this team's chances of reaching the Super Bowl than the one from a year ago.

"Last year, we were all going through it for the first time. This year, everybody in the room has a clear picture of what kind of team we are going to become," Harbaugh said a day after the Ravens' 23-20 loss at Pittsburgh. "We take care of business in Oakland and get ourselves in the playoffs, we can win the world championship. We're capable of doing it. But it's up to us to get it done."

The Ravens (8-7) are 10-point favorites to beat the Oakland Raiders (5-10) and secure a postseason spot. Their first-round opponent would largely depend on the New York Jets and former coordinator Rex Ryan.

If the Jets beat the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens would play at the New England Patriots. If the Jets lose, the Ravens would probably travel to Cincinnati (if New England wins at Houston to secure the No. 3 seed).

"I happen to think we have the makings of a very good football team," Harbaugh said.

"We do a lot of things very well. The other things - the things that were so disappointing that stick in our craw, too - we acknowledge. Let's get those things worked out. Let's make better decisions in critical situations. Let's get those penalties down where they belong, which is at three or four a game at the most. And let's see what team we can be."

Penalties were likely the reason the Ravens didn't clinch a playoff berth in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

The Ravens were penalized 11 times, two of which negated go-ahead touchdowns, for 113 yards. It's difficult to single out anyone for repeated mistakes because nine players were flagged.

"If we acknowledge them as a football team and work to get better at it, we can get that stuff fixed," Harbaugh said. "That should not have been a close game."

Terrell Suggs' illegal block on an interception return negated Domonique Foxworth's touchdown. Kelley Washington's holding penalty called back Willis McGahee's touchdown run. Haloti Ngata's personal foul (he knocked down two players after the whistle had blown on a punt return) cost the Ravens field position.

And Oniel Cousins' personal foul (he pushed linebacker LaMarr Woodley to the ground after the play) pushed the Ravens out of field-goal range when the game was tied at 20 in the fourth quarter.

"Coach Harbaugh said they played hard, and they did. But they didn't play smart," said Tony Dungy, the longtime NFL coach who is now an analyst for NBC.

"They didn't play with poise, and you're not going to win games like this if you don't play with poise."

The Ravens rank third in the NFL with 110 penalties. Their 1,057 penalty yards top the NFL.

The players disagreed with the notion that their penalties are the result of a discipline problem.

"Our team is probably one of the most disciplined teams in the league," Washington said.

"When you're aggressive, sometimes it comes back and bites you in the butt. We just got to know when to control it in key situations."

Committing a lot of penalties doesn't necessarily affect the results of games. Five of the six most penalized teams in the NFL this season (Green Bay, Oakland, Ravens, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Dallas) could reach the playoffs.

But it's the timing and nature of the penalties that can cost a team.

"We're an aggressive football team, [and] you're going to have some penalties," Harbaugh said. "To hit a guy when the play is over, we call them foolish penalties. We fix it just like that [snaps finger]."

Harbaugh added: "We hold our players accountable for it. They hold themselves accountable for it. We make sure it doesn't happen anymore as best we can. That's the kind of football team we want to be and we need to be if we're going to achieve the things we want to achieve."

Although the Ravens believe they are a playoff team, they said they would not overlook the Raiders. Oakland has defeated two playoff teams (Philadelphia and Cincinnati) at home this season.

"I would be surprised if our team wasn't ready to play," Harbaugh said. "It's just a matter of how well we play, how well we address the things that we have to get better at it going into that next week."

Harbaugh added: "Our guys know they're going to play a football team that is very dangerous. It's their last game of the season, so they're going to put their best effort out there. But we have more at stake. We have an opportunity to make the playoffs. To me, that's motivation enough."

Ravens online today Check the Ravens Insider blog at baltimoresun.com /ravens today for Ravens Pro Bowl selections. We'll post the Ravens' representatives as soon as the NFL releases them.

AFC wild-card picture

The Ravens make the playoffs if they win at Oakland in the regular-season finale.

If the Ravens, Jets and Broncos - the 8-7 teams with the best conference marks - all win, the Ravens and Jets would reach the postseason.


N.Y. Jets 8-7 Ravens 8-7 Denver 8-7 Pittsburgh 8-7 Houston 8-7 Jacksonville 7-8 Miami 7-8 Tennessee 7-8

* Full NFL playoff scenarios PG 2


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